Fighting for points through set pieces?

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Jake Buxton’s header at QPR brought a great save from Alex Smithies

It almost happened again. A good corner kick from Jamie Hanson and a bullet header from Jake Buxton. It would have put Latics 2-1 up at QPR, but a fine save by Alex Smithies prevented it.

Another header from Buxton from a Max Power corner had given Wigan Athletic an invaluable three points at Wolves a week before. A week earlier and Omar Bogle had headed home a goal against Norwich from corner kick launched by Michael Jacobs. Jacobs had also provided the delivery from the corner for Callum Connolly’s second goal at Burton in mid-January. Has Warren Joyce been placing more focus on set pieces during training?

Barnsley, Cardiff City and Newcastle United have the best record in the Championship division on set pieces in the season so far, each with 17 goals. Leeds United come next with 16 goals, 10 of which came from corners. Wigan only have 8, second worst to Aston Villa with 3. In fact, one of the most frustrating aspects of Latics’ play this season has been their performance on corners and free kicks. Too often the delivery from corners has failed to reach the centre of the goalmouth and the players waiting in and around the box have been too passive in their approach.

Latics have an average of 11.4 shots per game, only Blackburn Rovers having a lower average count. The stats show that Latics average a respectable 13.3 shots per game at home, but away from home only 9.6 shots per game, the lowest in the division. Wigan are clearly more disciplined when playing at home, where they have collected 28 yellow cards. They have received 42 away from home, the highest in the division.

West Bromwich Albion lead the Premier League in terms of goals from set pieces. They have 15, 11 of which have come from corners. Under Tony Pulis they have become a compact unit, with a tough defence and a high work rate. They have the lowest average possession rate at 40.7%.

There are arguments to the effect that football teams should not be obsessed with possession. But Roberto Martinez was certainly a believer and by maintaining possession his teams were more able to withstand the physical demands of the Premier League, more often than not playing against teams with technically superior players. In fact the top six teams in the Premier League table also have the top six possession statistics.

Wigan Athletic’s current average possession rate of 49.3% is the 13th highest in the division, but has been on a strong downward trend since the departure of Gary Caldwell. The emphasis on passing has been superseded by what is euphemistically called a more “direct approach” under Warren Joyce. Given Joyce’s previous reputation as coach of a Manchester United reserve team that played entertaining, flowing football it is difficult to fathom why he has resorted to such methods. Is Joyce trying to stave off relegation by transitioning to a Pulis-type approach?

However, 45% of West Bromwich’s goals have come from set pieces, compared with 27% for Wigan. Given the lack of flowing football from Joyce’s teams, making goals from open play relatively scarce, it is essential that they improve their conversion rate on set pieces.

In the 2014-15 season when they were to be relegated Wigan Athletic’s average possession was 51.6 %. They had an average of 13.7 shots per game. They scored 15 goals from set pieces, 8 of which were from corners. The previous season when they reached the Championship playoffs they had 52.3% possession and 14.7 shots per game, with 17 goals from set pieces.

Although results are the primary concern for Wigan Athletic fans at this moment in time there are many who would like to see Joyce’s team playing in what David Sharpe once named “The Wigan Way”. What that actually means is open to conjecture. The best quality football that Wigan Athletic have probably ever consistently played was from March to May 2012 under Roberto Martinez, while among the most exciting was the attacking play of the Paul Jewell era.

The football played by the current team is far removed from those halcyon times, closer to that of the days of Malky Mackay. But the very minimum most fans want is for Joyce to send his team out to win, rather than not to lose.

In the meantime, with the shortage of goals from open play and a lack of willingness to throw players forward, it is the set pieces that can prove crucial for Latics’ survival in the Championship division.

What are the chances of a set piece goal against Nottingham Forest tomorrow?

 
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Latics fans react to Preston draw on social media

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Is the glass half empty or half full? Some view the goalless draw with Preston North End as an opportunity to gain three points being lost. Others say it is another point gained in the fight against relegation.

The absence of a specialist winger in Warren Joyce’s starting lineup was a surprise to most of us, especially with Latics playing at home. However, he stuck with his Bogle-Grigg partnership, although the latter played behind the former, rather than them being utilised as twin strikers. In the absence of a genuine winger central midfielders Max Power and Ryan Tunnicliffe were played wide.

Joyce has certainly built a team that others don’t like to play against.  After the game Preston’s Irish midfielder Alan Browne commented: “We knew that they’d be at it from the start. They didn’t give us any time on the ball and it was a real battle.” But, however insistent the manager might be in saying that he is trying to win games, Latics continue to look like a team playing not to lose. We can only ponder on what might have happened had Matt Gilks not made that early penalty save.

After the game Joyce commented: “We have had games where we have played better than that and ended up with nothing. At the minute, we have to dust ourselves down and go again on Tuesday night because we’re trying to win every game that we play in. I don’t think that you can fault the players’ efforts to do that today; they tried their best but unfortunately that little bit of quality on the final shot or cross wasn’t quite there and that’s why we didn’t score the goals.

We took a look at the social media following yesterday’s match and came up with a wide range of views. Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum, The Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Facebook) and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen.  Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

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Stephen Warnock @StephenWarnock23 tweeted:

A real battle today. A clean sheet and a point on positive note. We recover & get ready for Tuesday. Another massive game.

Dean Chambers on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams commented:

Shocking game. We were sh..te as a team, too many hoofs, passes not making their man and getting under each others feet. Need to win on Tuesday. MoM Shaun MacDonald.

Bigroy on the Cockney Latic Forum referred to the dearth of goals:

Given we haven’t scored a goal in almost half the games we’ve played it’s understandable fans feel frustrated. Amazing that we are still in with a chance of staying up.

Zakky on Latics Speyk thought a draw was a fair result:

 We really didn’t deserve to win today PNE seemed far more up for it than us and our play was very sluggish. It was a great double save from Gilks that kept us in it, I would say we edged it on chances but overall we didnt deserve to win. Bogel tried very hard but looks to be carrying an injury and will be far more effective when he is as fit as the rest Will Grigg was very poor today, in my opinion he just does not do enough. A draw was the right result.

Noel Wards Leg on Latics Speyk had another view:

I’d disagree Zakky. I thought we did deserve to win it – just. I thought we had the better of the chances, the possession and the territory. We faded in the second half but I thought Bogle caused them all kinds of problems.

Like a lot of people I was a little disappointed at us not going for it with the substitutions especially as their left back was limping and Obertan would have made mincemeat of him I felt, but we are a more attacking threat than we were earlier in the season and hey ho, it’s another point in the bag.

Runcornfan1978 on the Cockney Latic Forum questioned the manager’s approach:

Someone please ask joyce why is he so negative & doesn’t at least try to go for it.

Dave Carter on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams commented:

A chance missed, made worse by Burton beating Norwich.

Phil Crompton @ptc23 tweeted:

It was a battle. No doubts about effort and discipline. A bit of flair and we’re laughing

Formbylatic on Latics Speyk was positive:

My other half, who is the biggest critic of Latics, said it was the best game she had seen this season. I really enjoyed the game and thought we were really unlucky not to win. Love the potential with Bogle. We should have had at least 2 penalties imo and there’s was never a penalty in a month of Sundays. Onwards and upwards. Few complaints about the performance today.

Piearmy on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

Can somebody ask him how many points he believes will be enough to stay up, and see if they can get a straight answer.

LoudmouthBlue on Latics Speyk commented:

 I am ever so glad this new manager has got us so fit from when we had Caldwell in charge, my next hope is getting his team to string two passes together. Which was never a problem under Caldwell.

Stewart Hart @No1fan talked about a need for width:

Without Wildschut/Jacobs need an outright attacking winger. Obertan for Power made sense.

He added:

One things clear, cannot continue with Power in wide role. Obertan needs to come in. Tunnicliffe actually did OK, reminds me of Morsy

Whittleblue on Latics Speyk summed up:

 Draw was probably a fair result.

The game and performance just encapsulates what type of team we are at present. Plenty of endeavour, effort and organisation but not enough quality up front, which is what I feared when the window shut. Bogles efforts aside, the balls into the box be it from dead balls or open play are absolutely atrocious, really really poor. Power I’m afraid was the main culprit on this front today.

Looked like a stonewall penalty for me on Bogle, he went through the back of him to win the ball and cleaned him out. The last substitution for me was poor and showed a lack of attacking intent when we need the win, I felt Obertan or weir could have come on.

The lack of strikers at the club is beginning to tell, Bogle looked sha…ed out at the end and we were in desperate need of fresh legs but sadly there is no one else. Whilst I enjoyed the game I find our situation frustrating. If the season was to start now I’m pretty sure we’d be comfortable in lower mid table come the end of the season, but it doesn’t and we are still in the mire with games running out. Can’t fault the effort and application but the lack of goals I fear is what will cost us our league position.

 Samuel Bennett @benitlatics91 tweeted:

Hahahaha just had a #PNEFC fan tell me that our glory days are gone. Sorry pal, but your last major honour was in 1938. 79 years ago

PNE fan Beckford on Latics Speyk gave his view:

A truly awful game which just turned into a sluggish, scrappy battle between two sides that were incapable of producing any sort of attacking quality on the day. IMHO the game would’ve opened up if we’d converted the penalty but it wasn’t to be.

I think you’re capable of staying up. Joyce seems to have instilled some fight into your team and the new lad Bogle looked a real handful. Add that to Bristol City’s never ending slide down the table, and you might just be able to do it. I hope you do because I like local away games, just a shame our club turned it into some sort of daft family fun day by dishing out cringey, embarrassing masks and etc. That sort of nonsense should be saved for home games IMHO as it didn’t help the atmosphere in our end, nor did the missed pen.

nwlfinish

 

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High turnover but what’s changed? A perspective on Wigan’s latest window

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Management hates it, the media loves it, fans have little choice but to be glued to it in hope and trepidation. Transfer deadline day is bigger business every year that goes by. It’s one of the ways – the lack of a winter break being the other obvious one – in which the British game likes to make things that bit more complicated (and profitable) than the rest of the world.

For clubs that swapped managers during the first half of the season, the January transfer window has become an opportunity for the new regime to stamp its authority on the squad. Ship out players that don’t fit the tactical model; replace them with players that do; balance the books by shedding big earners and reinvesting in problem positions. It’s a pattern that has become all too familiar at Wigan, with last year’s success in League 1 the notable exception.

There are a couple problems with this approach. First, you have less time in January than in the summer, not only to recruit good players and find a home for high-earning misfits, but just as importantly to provide incomings the tactical and personal adaptation period they need to succeed. On top of that, you have to navigate an inflated market to negotiate fair prices for players, which can be particularly challenging if you appear desperate, as one does in a relegation fight, for example.

Another unpleasant feature of the January transfer window well known to Latics, particularly in the Premier League days, is the risk of losing your most successful players. It tends to be instigated by agents or players themselves, and to materialize in the dying hours of the window, preventing the club from finding an adequate replacement. Sometimes, these decisions become of huge financial importance to the club, and their approval is beyond the manager’s control.

Add to this Wigan’s very limited spending power compared to its Championship competitors – and you realize what a big ask we as fans are making of the manager. It’s worth pausing to put oneself in Warren Joyce’s shoes. There are plenty of arguments claiming the manager should only be judged after a window. I’d take them a step further to suggest that’s still nowhere near enough time. The new players haven’t had a pre-season with him; many will need to adjust to playing at a higher level; all will have to adapt to new surroundings and teammates; and Joyce himself will need to adapt his tactics, having lost his most valuable player.

The counter argument, of course, is that Joyce brought some of these challenges upon himself. Too much turnover is bad for any organization, specially in a short period of time, and the high number of ins and outs will breed instability. Was it really necessary to bring in so many people, so many loanees in particular? Right when the team was gaining some consistency and producing results on the pitch? Plenty to debate. In the meantime, here are some ups and down on another busy window:

Good News: The whopping fee received for Yanic Wildschut (£7.5 million according to Sky,£7 million elsewhere.) It’s hard to take, given his status as Latics’ best attacking threat, with pace and strength to burn, and room to improve. But his finishing was often frustrating, he was inconsistent, and very much rough around the edges. If he had to go, credit is due the club for gaining such a huge profit on their investment.

Bad News: Yanic again. Being gone so late in the window. It’s hard to ignore that Wigan have scored three goals fewer than Rotherham, and yet just sold their most effective attacker.

Good News: In Gabriel Obertan, the club have found as close to a direct replacement as could be expected. We’ll be left to imagine what Joyce’s team might have looked like with two pacey wingers on the pitch. But at least Obertan’s defining attributes are similar to Wildschut’s: pace and strength, some trickery, abundant potential yet inconsistent finishing. He should be entering his peak years, has something to prove, and lots of experience at a higher level. Joyce knows him, he’s apparently a good professional, and they have said encouraging things about each other. The term of contract is short, therefore financial risk is too. All in all, a gamble worth taking.

Bad news: The squad feels unbalanced and bloated. There are a lot of midfielders, but few wingers or attacking playmakers given Nick Powell’s absence. With Obertan almost certain to start, it’s likely Michael Jacobs (in desperate need of a goal) on the other wing, with Colclough, Weir and Browne all unproven backups. Meanwhile, in the centre of midfield, Joyce has Power, Morsy, Perkins, MacDonald, Gilbey, Tunnicliffe, Hanson, Byrne, and Laurent to keep happy. Perhaps some of these players will be used in different positions (Hanson as defensive cover, etc.), but it’s a bloated, uneven squad that Joyce may have a hard time keeping happy.

Good News: Welcome Omar Bogle! He may need time to adapt. But the club beat out competitors to get him, and on paper, he has everything he needs to succeed at Championship level. A lot of hope is resting on his inexperienced shoulders, but if his teammates can provide him service, there is reason to believe. The option of a little-and-large Grigg and Bogle parternship is also intriguing. He’s left-footed, too.

Bad News: Banking on lower division signings is playing with fire. If Grigg is to become injured, Latics are left with Bogle, and Mikael Mandron to lead the line. Both have potential, but their success has come in League 2 and the Conference, respectively. They are completely unproven at this level, and playing with new teammates.

Good News: Alex Bruce appears an astute short-term signing, with potential for a longer stay. Dan Burn and Jake Buxton have developed a useful partnership in recent games, but Bruce is a dependable and experienced head to provide backup, who should also be good to have around the place.

Bad News: He hasn’t played all season due to an Achilles injury.

Good News: Keeping Sam Morsy and Max Power. Much of the attention has been on keeping Morsy, who has performed very well since his return. Power may not have started strongly, but has been steadily improving and remains a player of undoubted potential. Had rumours of his departure materialised, Latics would have lost an opportunity to reap the rewards of blooding him at this level. Good things should come of establishing Power and Morsy as a partnership.

Bad News: Too many loanees. In order to secure loan signings, managers often have to pledge a certain number of game time to the players’ parent clubs. Given the maximum of five loan signings per match-day squad, it looks an impossibility Latics’ recent loan signings will all get their wish to show what they can do. Jakob Haugaard may find himself sacrificed given the arrival of Matt Gilks. Callum Connolly is certain to play. That leaves Jamie Hanson, Marcus Browne, James Weir, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Bruce and Haugaard to vie for the other berths. Presumably, borrowing players and not giving them a game reduces the chances of players being borrowed from the same clubs in the future. Given many of these players are expected to be fringe players anyway, might Latics have been better off without a few of them?

Good News: Joyce appears to have both a short-term, and long-term plan. Signings like Gilks, Bruce and Obertan point to survival needs, while the signings of Jack Byrne, Mandron, and Josh Laurent show a continued desire to invest in youth and capitalize on Joyce’s wealth of experience in the area of player development. Byrne, in particular, was highly rated at City and appears a good long-term signing.

Verdict

Despite the high turnover, it doesn’t appear likely there will be immediate, dramatic changes to the starting lineup – Obertan in for Wildschut, perhaps the goalkeeper, and a new striking option in Bogle off the bench. This should prove a blessing, given the progress made in recent weeks. But it also calls into question the need for such a high number of incomings and outgoings. Joyce would do well to resist the urge of upsetting the players who have recently given him good commitment and results.

As supporters, patience is going to be important. Demanding instant impact from players adapting to a higher level is unfair, as is demanding instant adjustment from a team that became dependent on Wildschut to create for it. But if the new signings can add to the promising form shown of late and provide cover for injuries, we can be cautiously optimistic that, with a new crew of Joyce-loyal players and relative stability in the starting XI, we’re better off than before the window.

Full squad can be seen here